A long time away

OK, so I haven’t posted anything on here for almost a year.  When I stopped posting last February, I was running into this conflict of writing about my teaching and learning in a personal way without pissing off students.  I have yet to come up with a complete answer to that but I need to share some interesting stories and do some venting!

First up – I read through my posts last year and noticed the Dec 7/07 one about congratulating the UFE grads.  I have similar sentiments for 2008 (well done!) but I took my concern about the UFE being the end-all measurement to the next level by writing a short article for the CAAA newsletter questioning the use of the UFE pass statistics: 

Some Thoughts From the Education Chair – Fall 2008

Have you ever thought about how good (or not) your institution’s accounting program is? Program evaluation is an important component to curricular improvements, yet few academics have any training in it. It’s not surprising then, that we are tempted to use inappropriate evaluation tools to measure the success of our programs. 

The professional accounting exams in Canada, such as the UFE, may be adequate or even excellent evaluation tools for determining whether individual students are qualified to obtain their professional accounting designation. Those same exams, however, are not good measures of your program’s success. During my short academic career I have experienced first hand two situations that you may recognize. First, School X’s accounting program was being “beaten” year after year by a nearby “competitor”, School Y. The faculty at School X had numerous meetings to try to figure out why this could be and what was wrong with their program?

Second, School Z was very proud of their student’s high?pass rate on the UFE, and would not hesitate to informally advertise it. 

I support internal program review, curriculum enhancement, and responsible advertising, but both situations mentioned above fail to make me smile. There are two flaws in the “logic” inherent in School X and School Z’s reactions. First, instead of reflecting solely on output measures, perhaps we should consider “value?added” measures instead. Second, professional education such as accounting should not be constrained to or even focused on one measure of performance, particularly one with such a short horizon after graduation from our programs. 

Attending one of our accounting programs hopefully enhances students’ abilities, performance, skills, and attributes. However, we can’t dismiss the importance of the students’ first 18 or 19 years of life before they began at our institution. Perhaps we should consider a measure such as Education Value Added (EVA) – that is, how much does your program add to a student’s development. In my opinion, programs with high EVA deserve more respect than ones with high UFE pass rates but low EVA. 

The second flaw in the “logic” is that each program supposedly has the same objective. While each program across Canada is concerned about helping its students achieve success on the professional exams, some programs likely have a (thankfully) much broader objective. I enjoyed watching Usain Bolt’s two gold-medal performances at the 2008 Olympics. I also watched American Bryan Clay win the decathlon event. Both gentlemen are terrific athletes; each has chosen specific events or objectives to pursue. Clearly Bolt could beat Clay at the 100m and 200m events, I suspect that Clay could beat Bolt at eight other events. Bolt surely does not wake up in the middle of the night concerned that Clay could beat him at the shot put or high jump. Likewise, once we’ve chosen appropriate objectives for our program, let us not become distracted by inappropriate comparisons.

Professional exam results can be used responsibly to help evaluate our individual programs. As we modify our curriculum, the year?over?year professional exam results may be useful as part of an overall evaluation strategy that needs to measure a broad set of personal attributes, professional skills, and technical abilities.  When the exam results come out at the end of November, I encourage you to first phone up a few past students that have been successful and congratulate them – that surely is the key purpose of publicly releasing the results. Then sit down with your colleagues and carefully think about how you can most effectively use that data to improve your program.


Sandy Hilton

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